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Cereb Cortex. 2008 Jun;18(6):1444-54. Epub 2007 Oct 12.

Mapping the early cortical folding process in the preterm newborn brain.

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Department of Pediatrics, Geneva University Hospitals 1211, Geneva 4, Switzerland.


In the developing human brain, the cortical sulci formation is a complex process starting from 14 weeks of gestation onward. The potential influence of underlying mechanisms (genetic, epigenetic, mechanical or environmental) is still poorly understood, because reliable quantification in vivo of the early folding is lacking. In this study, we investigate the sulcal emergence noninvasively in 35 preterm newborns, by applying dedicated postprocessing tools to magnetic resonance images acquired shortly after birth over a developmental period critical for the human cortex maturation (26-36 weeks of age). Through the original three-dimensional reconstruction of the interface between developing cortex and white matter and correlation with volumetric measurements, we document early sulcation in vivo, and quantify changes with age, gender, and the presence of small white matter lesions. We observe a trend towards lower cortical surface, smaller cortex, and white matter volumes, but equivalent sulcation in females compared with males. By precisely mapping the sulci, we highlight interindividual variability in time appearance and interhemispherical asymmetries, with a larger right superior temporal sulcus than the left. Thus, such an approach, included in a longitudinal follow-up, may provide early indicators on the structural basis of cortical functional specialization and abnormalities induced by genetic and environmental factors.

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